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Why you need to have a happy workforce

29th March 2023

Costeau on alcohol and leadership



During the short-lived Truss administration, Costeau found himself scouting the terrain for revealing nicknames of the then new PM, before landing on the intriguing nickname: ‘Fizzy Lizzie’. This moniker was relatively unimaginative and more than a smidgin patronising. But in the event of it, Truss survived for such a brief time that the media had no opportunity to think of a better one.

But the ‘Fizzy Lizzie’ nickname had the merit of referring back to an actual event at 5 Hertford Street when Truss, then trade secretary, hosted ‘Fizz with Liz’ drinks at when hosting US trade representatives. On that occasion, according to The Sunday Times, Truss apparently resisted claims by senior civil servants that somewhere less expensive – and with fewer ties to Conservative donors – be chosen.

Alcohol is usually a symbolic aspect of a new administration. Boris Johnson, of course, will forever be associated with the red wine he appeared to be drinking on lockdown in the Rose Garden – the same drink he allegedly spilt on his sofa in Camberwell to Carrie’s annoyance shortly before he assumed office.

But we shouldn’t be judgmental. Drinking in Downing Street helps with the stress job: Tony Blair admits in his memoir A Journey to the following regime: ‘Stiff whisky or G&T before dinner, couple of glasses of wine or even half a bottle with it. So not excessively excessive. I had a limit. But I was aware that it had become a prop.’

Of course, we’re used to it in Britain. Our greatest prime minister, Winston Churchill, is impossible to imagine without his cigars, his pol Roger and his whisky.

His delight in alcohol was really an aspect of his living life to the full on every possible front. When this country was fighting for its survival and undergoing deprivations we can hardly imagine today, perhaps it helped to know the man at the help had a passion for the finer things.

Before him, Herbert Asquith’s drinking was a source of concern even to Churchill, which suggests quite considerable intake.

Over in America – once the country of Prohibition, let’s not forget –  it can be a different story. What do Joe Biden, Donald J. Trump, George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Theodore Roosevelt and Benjamin Harrison all have in common? Answer: they were all teetotallers. Even those who technically drank never did so to excess. Costeau remembers being surprised to hear from someone who used to work at Kensington Palace that President Barack Obama enjoyed his cocktails while he was visiting the then Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. He never drank to excess; it would have been unAmerican to do so.

Our attitude to alcohol is another thing which divides the UK and America – besides the absence of that trade deal which Truss spent £3,000 in 5 Hertford Street seeking to secure.

It used to be that work in Mayfair and the City was almost entirely lubricated. Nowadays that’s less the case. As an emblem of this shift, look at the new prime minister Rishi Sunak. Sunak isn’t a drinker – except of Coca-Cola, which he apparently gets from Mexico. In one piece of footage dating from 2019, he described himself to a pair of pupils at a Richmond school as a ‘total Coke addict’ before making it clear at some length that he wasn’t referring to a drug habit. So the cost of living prime minister drinks the same everyman drink the rest of us do, but as a multimillionaire he likes to source it from an unexpected place.

The world has sobered up, and not just because of the pandemic. It has become more serious, and as over a decade of free money comes to an end, people will be inspecting the cost of their wine as much as the cost of everything else. The name Fizzy Lizzie was always out of touch with the direction of things. Perhaps getting your Coca-Cola from Mexico is too. After all, who will drink to that?


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